When Wendy Carlos—then, before an operation, known as Walter Carlos—released Switched-On Bach, a 1968 recording of the composer's music arranged for the Moog synthesizer, it expressed a side of Bach's music nobody had heard before. Some would argue that things should have stayed that way, but, achieving a runaway success enjoyed by few classical recordings, it guaranteed that the Moog (and electronic music in general) would never be viewed the same way again. However dated Switched-On Bach sounds today, and it sounds about as dated as music can, there's no denying its historical importance. Nor can the importance of Carlos be denied, her influence expanding beyond that first work into her influential soundtrack work and non-classical recordings. Two of these, Carlos' complete score to Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and her 1972 recording Sonic Seasonings, have recently been released along with a new album. For those curious about Carlos' work, the Clockwork Orange album offers a fine starting point: Even unaccompanied by Kubrick's film, Carlos' original music sounds wonderfully creepy and evocative of a dystopian future. That it appears alongside some electronic arrangements of Rossini and Beethoven makes it probably the most concise summation of what Carlos is all about. It's difficult to imagine the soundtrack work of ensuing decades sounding quite the same without it. From the same period comes the radically different Sonic Seasonings, an ambient work from before anyone coined the term. With unobtrusive, nature-sound-strewn tracks representing each of the four seasons (with some similar bonus material thrown in for this release), Sonic Seasonings barely registers, which is sort of the point. It's ambient in the original sense of the term, and a clear influence on its current coinage. It's also about as exciting as a loom demonstration, though that's probably part of the point. Carlos' newest work, Tales Of Heaven And Hell, comes with the warning, "Contains genuinely scary material. Use caution when listening alone or in the dark." That overstates things mightily. As her work on The Shining soundtrack proved, Carlos can produce truly frightening music, but Tales Of Heaven And Hell sounds like something you might hear on a theme-park simulation of both locations. It does have its moments of interest, including some sensitive theremin parts (or simulated theremin; it's not clear), but Carlos' frequent incorporation of Gregorian chant into her electronic soundscape is more evocative of Enigma's "Sadeness" than either heaven or hell. One track, "Clockwork Black," hearkens back to the composer's earlier work, which is probably the best place to look for her most vital material.
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